The UEFA Champions League’s quarter-finals failed to disappoint during the first legs of the last eight ties this week, with some statement showings from Europe’s elite.
Real Madrid outlined their credentials with an impressive 3-1 win at defending champions Chelsea, whilst both Manchester City and Liverpool secured first leg advantages ahead of next week’s returns.
Bayern Munich have work to do, however, after the six-time European champions were beaten in an away Champions League fixture for the first time since September 2017, losing 1-0 at Villarreal.
Following the latest action we’ve picked out some of the competition’s leading performers, here is The Football Faithful’s Champions League Team of the Week.
Goalkeeper: Gerónimo Rulli – Villarreal
Villarreal sprung a surprise after beating Juventus in the last 16, before causing another shock with a 1-0 win over Bayern Munich in their quarter-final first leg.
Unai Emery’s side have been in indifferent form domestically this season but rose to the occasion at El Madrigal, as Arnaut Danjuma’s early goal secured a deserved win in Spain.
Rulli – excellent in the last-16 win at Juventus – was an important part of an impressive win with the Argentine goalkeeper making four saves and a pressure-relieving four claims.
Right-back: Trent Alexander-Arnold – Liverpool
Excellent on his return to the Liverpool side after injury, Alexander-Arnold’s creativity was again prominent as the Reds secured a 3-1 win at Benfica.
The 23-year-old was solid defensively and demonstrated his range of passing in Portugal, creating Liverpool’s second goal with a superb pass into Luis Diaz, before almost creating another goal after releasing Mohamed Salah in behind.
"I think he's actually a better passer and crosser than Beckham"
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 6, 2022
His first outing since a hamstring issue will have pleased Jurgen Klopp ahead of the club’s huge clash with Manchester City in the Premier League this weekend.
Centre-back: Pau Torres – Villarreal
Pau Torres led the Villarreal defence to back-to-back Champions League clean sheets, producing another assured performance in the 1-0 win over Bayern Munich.
The 25-year-old made five clearances, blocked two shots and completed six accurate long passes from the back, with another stand-out showing sure to increase the number of sides considering a move for the centre-back this summer.
Torres’ performance helped Villarreal contain the talents of Robert Lewandowski and ended Bayern Munich’s run of scoring in each of their last 30 games across all competitions.
Centre-back: Felipe – Atletico Madrid
Even given the standards of pragmatism Atletico Madrid have set over the past decade, their deep defensive set-up against Manchester City was a new level of negativity.
At the heart of the Spanish side’s resistance was Felipe, who in the absence of Jose Giminez stood strong amid the home side’s pressure. Dominant in the air and positionally excellent, his display almost led to Atletico returning home with the tie level.
Kevin De Bruyne’s goal means it’s advantage Manchester City but, as it stands, Diego Simeone’s side remain in the contest.
Left-back: Ferland Mendy – Real Madrid
Real Madrid are in pole position to reach the semi-finals after an impressive win at Chelsea, the Spaniards – beaten at Stamford Bridge in last season’s edition of the competition – clinical in the English capital.
Ferland Mendy was among his side’s best performers in west London, dealing with the threat of Reece James and contributing to Madrid’s success on the front foot.
Ferland Mendy's game by numbers vs. Chelsea:
100% take-on success
87% pass accuracy
7 duels attempted
6 duels won
2 tackles made
— Squawka (@Squawka) April 6, 2022
He completed 100% of his take-ons and won six duels, recovering from a nervous start to grow into the game and aligned tenacious defending with some notable surges forward.
Midfield: Dani Parejo – Villarreal
It can be easy to become lost in the wealth of wonderfully gifted Spanish midfielders and there is an argument that Dani Parejo has been among the most under-appreciated of the past decade.
His absence from a truly elite club should not detract from a fine talent, who followed an instrumental role in Villarreal’s win over Juventus with another as Bayern Munich were beaten this week.
🔎 | FOCUS
Dani Parejo vs Bayern:
👌 55 touches
🅰️ 1 assist
🎁 1 big chance created
🔑 2 key passes
↪️ 3/4 accurate crosses
👟 30/37 accurate passes
💨 1/1 successful dribbles
🦵 3 tackles
📈 7.7 SofaScore rating
— SofaScore (@SofaScoreINT) April 6, 2022
The 32-year-old won three tackles and five duels in a performance of both hard-running and class, going toe-to-toe with one of Europe’s best midfielders and coming out firmly on top.
Midfield: Naby Keita – Liverpool
Whisper it quietly, but are we beginning to see the best of Naby Keita in a Liverpool shirt?
The midfielder produced a brilliant performance as the Reds won 3-1 at Benfica, one which included the best of the Guinea international with smart ball retention and aggression in both his pressing and ball-winning.
Naby Keïta's game by numbers vs. Benfica:
92% pass accuracy
10 duels won
8 ball recoveries
7 touches in opp. box
5 tackles made
3 take-ons completed
2 chances created
2 Big Chances created
2 through balls
Christmas came early. 😉 pic.twitter.com/Nfvsyeu9Ol
— Squawka (@Squawka) April 5, 2022
Used in an advanced role, his carrying of the ball in possession was a feature of Liverpool’s game, carving out two big chances and ending with an assist after teeing up Luis Diaz for the crucial third.
Injury issues have created a narrative of disappointment surrounding Keita’s time at Liverpool, but when fit and on-song he has the capability to be a big player in this side.
Midfield: Kevin De Bruyne – Manchester City
“Teams play very defensively [against us] but today, for the first time, I see a team playing 5-5-0,” De Bruyne told TNT Sports after Manchester City’s 1-0 win against Atletico Madrid. “No strikers. So it’s very hard to find the spaces.”
Fortunately for Pep Guardiola, one of those few spaces was found by De Bruyne who burst into the box to hand the Premier League champions a 1-0 advantage.
Let’s finish it off next week! 💪🏼 pic.twitter.com/mkj6pXx5SV
— Kevin De Bruyne (@DeBruyneKev) April 5, 2022
Atletico had frustrated the hosts for much of the contest with their negative brand of football, but a moment of real quality from De Bruyne earned City a first leg lead.
Forward: Phil Foden – Manchester City
His introduction changed the game for Manchester City, creating the game’s only goal just 80 seconds after his arrival from the bench.
Foden comes alive in tight areas of the pitch and attracted four Atletico Madrid defenders before releasing De Bruyne with a perfect through ball, a match-winning moment from the 21-year-old at the Etihad.
All Man City needed was Phil Foden on the pitch 😅
80 seconds after coming on he unlocks the Atletico defence to set up Kevin De Bruyne!
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 5, 2022
Up against fierce resistance, he found the key to unlock Atletico and his invention – so transformative against the Spanish side – could be crucial to City’s hopes of winning the Champions League this season.
Forward: Vinicius Junior – Real Madrid
Vinicius Junior exposed Andreas Christensen to such extent that the Chelsea defender was substituted at half-time, with the winger at his electric best during the opening exchanges of Real Madrid’s win at Stamford Bridge.
The Brazilian remained high up the pitch and was a threat throughout, creating the first goal with a sharp one-two and floated cross into Karim Benzema.
Vinicius Junior is up to five Champions League assists this season and 11 in all competitions 🪄 pic.twitter.com/YJJl1BDGLP
— GOAL (@goal) April 7, 2022
He could have opened the scoring after rattling the crossbar early on and faded after the break, but his speed and threat did the damage during the first half as Real secured a strong advantage.
Forward: Karim Benzema – Real Madrid
For the second successive Champions League fixture Karim Benzema helped himself to a hat-trick, his sublime individual showing leading Real Madrid to a statement win over the holders.
His first was an outrageous header he really had no right to score, before another headed effort – this time wrapped in subtlety – doubled the visitor’s advantage soon after.
🔥 Karim The Dream 🔥
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 7, 2022
Benzema was gift-wrapped a third to become the Champions League’s oldest ever hat-trick scorer, with the Frenchman compiling a strong case as the most influential footballer in the game right now.